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Who knew? An old law shuts psychics

Alerted to a forgotten state ban, Phila. authorities have closed at least 16 storefront fortune-tellers. One alleged discrimination.

While psychic shops in Philadelphia like this one, at 700 Chestnut St., were closed, suburban businesses appeared unaffected by the rediscovered state law.
While psychic shops in Philadelphia like this one, at 700 Chestnut St., were closed, suburban businesses appeared unaffected by the rediscovered state law.Read more

Philadelphia's fortune-tellers didn't see it coming.

Suddenly they're facing a very unhappy future.

Alerted to an obscure state law banning fortune-telling "for gain or lucre," the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections is closing storefront psychics, astrologers, phrenologists and tarot-card readers who charge money for their services.

Inspectors had closed 16 shops since Tuesday, Deputy L&I Commissioner Dominic E. Verdi said yesterday.

"We were not aware it was a crime," he said, "but the Police Department came to us a few days ago and showed us where the crime code prohibits psychic readings.

"We looked into it, and it's clearly illegal. I was surprised."

Fortune-telling for profit is a third-degree misdemeanor. The law has been on the books for more than 30 years.

Verdi said that he did not know how many shops operated in the city, but that he expected inspectors to close more in the days ahead.

Inspectors are not imposing fines, and police are not making arrests, Verdi said, "but they will if these people try to return to work."

Most so-called psychics, he said, "are not little old ladies with kerchiefs on their heads" but clever con artists capable of stealing large sums - even life savings - from grieving or otherwise vulnerable people.

The owner of Psychic, a fortune-telling shop at 2041 Walnut St., sat on his steps yesterday and complained bitterly about the police action. He would not give his name or his lawyer's name.

"First of all," he said, "they've got to stop the 129 murders in this city. What we do is entertainment."

He also said the police Major Crimes Unit had shut him down even though he had bought a business license from the city and paid taxes.

"Shouldn't they be cracking down on rapes and murders, not palm readers?" he asked.

He also demanded to know whether tea-leaf readers in Chinatown were also being shut down. He doubted it.

"They're discriminating against Gypsies," he said, although he said he was born and raised in Philadelphia.

Finally, he noted that critics "considered that Jesus was a psychic, a fortune-teller, and they crucified him."

He saw a certain parallel.

"Look what they want to do with the fortune-tellers," the man said. "We might be coming to the end of the world."

In the city, perhaps, but apparently not in the suburbs, where fortune-telling seemed to continue unaffected this week.

A man who answered the phone at 6 p.m. at Psychic Readings by Lori, in Narberth, was happy to schedule an appointment but wouldn't grant an interview.

He said he hadn't been affected by any crackdown, and had no opinion on what was happening in the city.

He had to go. He was busy!